Transantarctic Mountains

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Transantarctic Mountains
Transantarctic mountain hg.jpg
The Transantarctic Mountains in northern Victoria Land near Cape Roberts
Highest point
Peak Mount Kirkpatrick
Elevation 4,528 m (14,856 ft)
Coordinates 84°20′S 166°25′E / 84.333°S 166.417°E / -84.333; 166.417
Length 3,500 km (2,200 mi)
Antarctica major geographical features.jpg
Continent Antarctica
Range coordinates 85°S 175°W / 85°S 175°W / -85; -175Coordinates: 85°S 175°W / 85°S 175°W / -85; -175
Age of rock Cenozoic

The Transantarctic Mountains (abbreviated TAM) comprise a mountain range in Antarctica which extend, with some interruptions, across the continent from Cape Adare in northern Victoria Land to Coats Land. These mountains divide East Antarctica and West Antarctica. They include a number of separately named mountain groups, which are often again subdivided into smaller ranges.


The mountain range stretches between the Ross Sea and the Weddell Sea the entire length of Antarctica, hence the name. With a total length of about 3,500 km, the Transantarctic Mountains are one of the longest mountain ranges on Earth. The 100–300 km wide range forms the boundary between East Antarctica and West Antarctica. The East Antarctic Ice Sheet bounds the TAM along their entire length on the Eastern Hemisphere side, while the Western Hemisphere side of the range is bounded by the Ross Sea (C.Michael Hogan. 2011) in Victoria Land from Cape Adare to McMurdo Sound, the Ross Ice Shelf from McMurdo Sound to near the Scott Glacier, and the West Antarctic Ice Sheet beyond.

The summits and dry valleys of the TAM are some of the few places in Antarctica not covered by ice, the highest of which rise more than 4,500 metres (14,800 ft) above sea level. The McMurdo Dry Valleys lie near McMurdo Sound and represent a special Antarctic phenomenon: landscapes that are snow and ice free due to the extremely limited precipitation and ablation of ice in the valleys. The highest mountain of the TAM is 4,528 m high Mount Kirkpatrick in the Queen Alexandra Range. Isolated peaks surrounded by ice are referred to as nunataks.


Main article: Antarctic ecozone

Penguins, seals, and sea birds live along the Ross Sea coastline in Victoria Land, while life in the interior of the Transantarctic Range is limited to bacteria,[1] lichens, algae, and fungi.


The Transantarctic Mountains were first seen by Captain James Ross in 1841 from the Ross Sea. The range is a natural barrier that must be crossed to reach the South Pole from the Ross Ice Shelf. In 1908, Ernest Shackleton's party did not reach the South Pole, but was the first to cross the mountains through the Beardmore Glacier. Robert Scott returned to that same glacier in 1911, while Roald Amundsen crossed the range via the Axel Heiberg Glacier.

Much of the range remained unexplored until the late 1940s and 1950s, when missions such as Operation Highjump and the International Geophysical Year made extensive use of aerial photography and concentrated on a thorough investigation of the entire continent. The name "Transantarctic Mountains" were recommended in 1962 by the US-ACAN committee, a US authority for geographic names. This purely descriptive label (in contrast to many other geographic names on Antarctica) is internationally accepted at present.

The Leverett Glacier in the Queen Maud Mountains is the planned route through the TAM for the overland supply road between McMurdo Station and Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station.


Aerial view of the Beardmore Glacier in 1957
Mount Herschel (3,335 m) in the Admiralty Mountains subrange, as seen from Cape Hallett

The Transantarctic Mountains are considerably older than other mountain ranges of the continent that are mainly volcanic in origin. The range was uplifted during the opening of the West Antarctic Rift to the east, beginning about 65 million years ago in the early Cenozoic.

The mountains consist of sedimentary layers lying upon a basement of granites and gneisses. The sedimentary layers include the Beacon Supergroup sandstones, siltstones, and coal deposited beginning in the Silurian period and continuing into the Jurassic. In many places the Beacon Supergroup has been intruded by dikes and sills of Jurassic age Ferrar Dolerite. Many of the fossils found in Antarctica are from locations within these sedimentary formations.

Ice from the East Antarctic ice sheet flows through the Transantarctic Mountains via a series of outlet glaciers into the Ross Sea, Ross Ice Shelf, and West Antarctic Ice Sheet. These glaciers generally flow perpendicular to the orientation of the range and define subranges and peak groups. It is thought that many of these outlet glaciers follow the traces of large-scale geologic faults.

See also[edit]

David Glacier with the Drygalski Ice Tongue in the far distance

In geographic order from the Ross Sea towards the Weddell Sea:

Victoria Land[edit]

Central TAM[edit]

Queen Maud Mountains[edit]

"Southern" TAM[edit]


  1. ^ Sokol, Eric; Craig W. Herbold; Charles K. Lee; S. Craig Cary; J. E. Barrett (Nov 2013). "Local and regional influences over soil microbial metacommunities in the Transantarctic Mountains". Ecosphere 4: art136. doi:10.1890/es13-00136.1. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 

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